Inefficient communication between Lowry Center and Student Activities and organizations causes issues with budget allocations
Senior News Writer
A common complaint from both student organizations and individuals alike has been that Lowry Center and Student Activities (LCSA) does not communicate with them in a timely or effective manner. The LCSA office is responsible for student organization registration and club sports, and helps organizations manage charters, budgets, purchasing, fundraising and more, as well as providing general support. Dean of Students Scott Brown and Director of LCSA Julia Zimmer each stated in separate emails, “Lowry Center and Student Activities does much to help our students get involved on campus and make sure they have lots to do.”
Some student organizations reported communication issues that resulted in them not receiving a charter at all. The Leftists of Wooster Co-President Elle Dykstra ’22 stated, “Regarding our charter, that’s very much up in the air. I sent in the charter through email during the spring semester. This is what the fliers posted in Lowry for club renewal said to do. My email never got a reply, and our club never got officially chartered, even though we technically had a charter, being a previously existing student organization. As of now we’re not in the event planning system, 25live, so I can’t book rooms to meet in.” Dykstra added that because the group was not chartered, they did not get relevant information about Scot Spirit Day, having to rely on word of mouth from other students in order to find out what was going on.
Daphne Letherer ’20, an officer of Russian Club, reported similar issues regarding charters. “Last fall semester [fall 2018], the officers of our club attempted to get us chartered, but Julia Zimmer would not reply to them,” Letherer said. “They would email her, call her and stop by the office. The advisor even attempted to contact her, and she didn’t respond. As a result, we weren’t chartered during the fall and for the majority of the spring semester.” Letherer continued that the group had to go directly to Campus Council to get chartered. She said, “As a result of the delay and lack of communication on her part, not only was our club unable to be active during the 2018-2019 school year, we were unable to attend the budget meetings in the fall in order to receive funds during the 2019-2020 school year.”
After hearing that a budget training was being considered for new clubs about how to apply for a budget, the treasurer of the organization reached out to Zimmer to see if such trainings could be arranged but did not receive a reply. Letherer continued, “Our club, for the second year in a row, is unable to properly function, despite our officers being proactive and meeting the student activities deadlines. We understand that they are currently understaffed, but the severe lack of communication is hindering clubs and the students who invest time to make these groups function.” Letherer was initially wary of commenting because she was worried that it would affect the club’s chances of getting a budget this year.
Other organizations who did receive a budget, but appealed the budget, have reported that they have not yet heard back about their appeals. Danza Zumba is one such organization. Imogen Campbell Hendricks ’20, president of the group, said, “We have currently been operating without a budget since we sent in our appealed budget on April 30. Aside from the meeting in early May that myself and my secretary had with the Budget Appeal Committee to discuss our appeal, we have had no further communication about the allocations of our funds. My treasurer and I have sent out a few emails to Student Activities and to Julia Zimmer herself, but have had no official response.” Campbell Hendricks added that the treasurer of Danza Zumba approached Zimmer at the Scot Spirit Day meeting and was told that information about the appeal would be forthcoming, but the club still has not heard about the appeal as of Sep. 24. Other clubs have the same issue with not having heard back about budget appeals but did not want to go on the record for fear of jeopardizing their chances.
When asked about students that would not go on the record due to fear of reprisals, Zimmer commented, “That would never effect the budget process or how we work together. I want to hear feedback. Feedback can lead to better processes and procedures for students, Lowry Center and Student Activities and Campus Council.” Brown echoed Zimmer’s words, saying, “The deep commitment from LCSA, and I mean deep, is to help students access the full range of involvement experiences, and they work to make sure that they are the most accessible and equitable process. They are always investing in improving processes and guiding all students so they take advantage of them. Whenever we talk about updating a process, that is the filter LCSA insists we consider.” Brown also said while he was not aware of concerns students had with the budgeting and chartering being negatively affected by students going on the record, students should not hesitate to go to him about any concerns they have. Zimmer did not respond to questions about student organizations not having heard about their budget appeals directly.
However, Zimmer is aware that some organizations were missed in the budget process altogether that started in the spring. She stated, “Groups that were missed entirely in the spring budget process are being looked at by Budget Committee (part of Campus Council) just as they would have the allocation process. They will be given their approved budgets as well as given a chance to appeal just as they would have in the spring semester. The issues that have occurred have shown more reason why we need student organization software to help manage student organizations and the items that are required for them to do. This way everything would be in one place instead of several different locations that make it a challenge to be efficient.”
Chemistry Club also reported communication issues with LCSA regarding purchasing, starting when the club decided to “sell lab coats in the second semester so that students registering for organic chemistry lab could order lab coats for the next year,” according to Chloe Litts ’20, last year’s president of Chemistry Club. Litts explained that sales of the lab coats began in February, with students handing in money within about a week. “Each lab coat was $50, and 10 students ordered lab coats, including one senior,” Litts added. After the money was collected, it was handed into LCSA so the lab coats could be ordered, but after a month, no updates were given. “I emailed Julia Zimmer in March,” Litts said. According to Litts, Zimmer responded by saying that the club needed to fill out a disbursement form, and after that was done the lab coats would be ordered as soon as possible. “After another month, we still had no updates, and I emailed Julia Zimmer again, asking if there was an update on the status of the lab coats. She never responded,” said Litts. By the time the semester had ended, there had been no word received regarding the lab coats. Litts said that “over the summer, the advisor of Chemistry Club and I decided to email the deans about the situation [and] we got mixed responses, but no clear answer to the problem.”
Abbi Tarburton ’22, current president of Chemistry Club, stated that at the beginning of the semester, “we returned to school to learn there had been almost no progress. I went and met with Dean Brown who spoke with Student Activities; he worked to make sure an apology was made and the order was processed.” Litts stated that after Tarburton met with Dean Brown, “that evening, we received an email from Julia Zimmer apologizing for the long wait. She assured us that the lab coats would be high priority and ordered as soon as possible.” Tarburton continued, “Two weeks ago today (Sep. 3) we received the apology, but we have yet to receive an order confirmation.”
Communication issues with LCSA and Zimmer are not just a current problem. Mia Stevens ’20 commented on her experience with the office when taking over leadership of Knot Another Fiber Arts Society. Stevens took over the club in the spring semester of the 2016-17 academic year when the founding president of the club decided to leave the College. “I had a very rough experience with Julia,” remarked Stevens. “I repeatedly told her that I was [the] new president and she did not give me the information I needed. She wouldn’t respond to my emails and I was forced to go into her office and wait until she could see me. By the time she finally saw me she realized I was never added to the student organizations listserv, which was her responsibility. By not adding me to the listserv I was unable to apply for funding for Knitting Club.” Stevens continued that the date of the funding application had already passed so the club did not have a chance to apply for funds. “My lack of knowledge of this was because of her failure to add me to the listserv,” Stevens said. She added that she did not completely fault Zimmer because she took the club over in a messy time in which nobody in the club knew what was going on. “But I would have appreciated some more guidance in taking over a club,” Stevens stated.
Some groups felt that the budget meetings for both the spring and fall semesters were not distributed widely enough. Alexis Lanier ’20 stated that last semester, budget information was sent out to organizations in a PDF newsletter attached to an email, but that the email was only sent to the officers on the listserv, not newly elected officers for the 2019-20 school year. Regarding the email, Lanier said, “It contained information about required budget meetings, which did not make clear if new or old officers were to attend the meetings. There were five total 90 minute meetings; however, they began happening only three days after the initial email was sent out, and only went until a week and a half after the email was sent out (the last meeting was on Feb. 27).” Lanier also stated that there was not enough time for student leadership to organize to go to budget meetings.
When asked about this, Zimmer said, “All of our communications are sent via email on the student organization listserv. The email addresses for the listserv are added from the executive board and advisor list that are required to be submitted at the end of the fall semester.” She added that she was aware that information did not reach all ears about the budget training meetings for the fall semester. “I am working on adding a [fifth] training for those who missed the four previous ones. This is why feedback is important so we can develop plans to help address concerns so a better experience can occur.” However, Zimmer stated that all of the budget training meeting dates were handed out at the Welcome Back & Scot Spirit Day Meeting, at which “all student organizations were required to be at … They were also sent out via email.”
Not all organizations have reported negative experiences with LCSA. Ava Chamberlain ’20, president of Betty Gone Wild, the women’s ultimate frisbee team commented, “We’ve had some difficulties planning for tournaments in the past, but we have increased communication with Julia Zimmer and everything has been running smoothly as of late.” Nashmia Khan ’20, co-president of South Asia Committee also had a positive experience. “The appeal process for South Asia Committee went smoothly for the most part,” Khan said. “We heard back [about our appeal] at the start of this semester which was the deadline we were given in the first place. We were able to work with Julia [Zimmer] to make sure everything was in order and she helped speed along the process as our first event of the semester, Tandoori Night, which was an event we had appealed.”
Different students have also commented that they perceive part of the issue to be that Zimmer has too much work to do for an individual person. Campbell Hendricks remarked, “the situation is unacceptable in two ways: one, that the students aren’t getting what they need, and two, that she’s been made to do a job that should be the job for three people.” Alumna of the College Maha Rashid ’19 echoed Campbell Hendricks’ remarks regarding her past leadership of the Inter-Greek Council (IGC), saying, “Student organizations are so important as a part of students’ Wooster experience. Most of the time, people develop the best memories and the greatest passions through their organizations. Therefore, I think the level of involvement on a student level should be appropriately matched on a staff level.” Rashid said that she thought that there should be an equal ratio of staff to more adequately manage the 120 plus organizations that exist. Rashid continued, “Often times student organizations [are] wholly responsible for being knowledgeable about college regulations, submitting large budgets and having conversations with administration. In my experience, some weeks I worked more on IGC than I did I.S. my senior year.”
Rashid explained that due to a lack of staffing in the LCSA office, everything fell on Zimmer. She added, “However, it should not be the students’ sole responsibility to be on top of all of the budgets and college regulations. The Student Life office should be more transparent, efficient and guiding.”
The staffing issues are in the process of being addressed. In separate emails, Zimmer and Brown both stated, “to help support student organizations with paperwork while they are filling the staff position, LCSA has hired a dedicated senior student who is holding office hours every day from Monday to Thursday.” Moreover, Zimmer stated, “I am also making myself available between 5 and 8 p.m. on Wednesdays to try to meet with students or work on things specific for student organizations.” Additionally, LCSA is “currently in the interview process for the Assistant Director of Student Organizations. The goal is to have someone in place by January at the latest,” added Zimmer.